Saturday, March 11, 2017

Just a Pretty Picture

Gray and snowy, with the promise of low temperature in the low 20s tonight.
But this recently opened amaryllis brightens the day.
I have a couple of other pots of amaryllis sporting multiple orange-red blossoms, as well. When they first opened a week (or two?) ago, they seemed huge and brilliant. Now they seem dwarfed by this large bright pink-red blossom that towers over them. I have kept these bulbous plants going for more than 10 years by setting the pots outside on the north side of the house, or another shady spot for the summer and bringing them indoors for the winter.

Last year I finally learned how to get them to bloom more reliably. Bring them indoors for the winter, preferably before the first frost, and stop watering them. I set mine in our attached garage. They don't need light. Let the leaves dry up and look dead. Previously I would bring them in the house for the winter and try to keep them green and growing. Sometimes they would bloom, sometimes not. Letting them go completely dormant should make them bloom more reliably. This year they have more blooms than usual. Except the big one, which has only one flower stalk. But it didn't bloom at all last year.

When I saw ready for them to bloom, I brought them into the warmth of the house, set them where they got light, and started watering them. Within a couple of weeks or so they sent up green blades that were followed by flower stalks. And, bada bing, brilliant blossoms. But it took at least a month to get from leafless to flowering.

Next year I might bring them into the house sooner, so I can have blooms in January, maybe even in December. Maybe not in December; they'd overshadow the Thanksgiving Cactus that bloomed throughout November and December. You also can follow the same method, but set them outdoors in spring and have these gorgeous members of the lily family setting fire to your gardens.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting Nettled, and Other Signs of Spring

Picked my first basketful of nettles before dinner yesterday. Yes, the stinging kind.
And I did it with my bare hands. Of course, at this young stage their sting is pretty mild.
I made a pot of stew rife with some of these nutritious nettle greens, stewed in chicken bone broth with carrots, celery, kale and sweet potatoes, seasoned with oregano, garlic powder and salt and pepper.

Nettle harvest isn't the only sign of spring. You've already met the crocuses. Yesterday I noticed daffodils blooming. And the vultures are back. Two of them, anyway. On the windiest of windy days earlier this week we saw two vultures circling. Even in the high wind (gusts of up to 40 miles per hour) these large birds seemed unruffled. They dove into the wind, moving forward without a flap. Instead they merely angled their wings to guide themselves through. Pure inspiration. Face the wind and move through it without struggling, but flowing. Taoists, surely.

The inspirational flights of the vultures prompted us to rename our little piece of paradise as Spirit Bird Farm. We had tired of Cedar Springs Farm, a name we chose before we really knew this place, and when the springs still ran, filling the pond. The springs are no longer reliable, although the cedars are even bigger and more abundant.

We have lots of spirit birds here. The hawks were very prominent in the sky this past winter. Occasionally bald eagles fly overhead. Barred howls laugh uproariously in the night. The crows have their charms. And then we have all these songbirds and other small birds.

But it is the vultures that define our sense of spirit bird. Soaring and circling, swooping and rising, rising, rising... silently, gracefully. They always seemed to be making the most of their "work," their search for food. And when a silent shadow passes over me as I work outside, I am reminded to be here now, for I too am mortal.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lettuce Contemplate

Lettuce grows pretty quickly.

You'd think I'd remember little things like that.

But when I started the cabbages and broccoli I also started some lettuce seeds, thinking I would plant them out in the garden with all of the other stuff.

However, lettuce grows quickly. By the time I plant the cabbages in the garden in two or three weeks, the lettuce will be getting close to a mature size, hardly the time to transplant them. I could put them in the garden now, but the way it hasn't been raining, I'd need to water them frequently. Watering plants in pots on the porch is much easier than dragging the hose out to the garden.

And we're still getting the occasional night with temps in the 20s... too cold for young lettuce that's been pampered in cozy conditions.

So I put all my lettuces in pots on the front porch. Although they're all in the house right now, since the low temperature tomorrow morning is supposed to be in the mid-20s. Lettuce adapts well to lower light levels, making it a good vegetable for a semi-shady porch or garden spot.

The above photo is one of my rather large lettuce babies. They are a Batavian variety, Concept. I first grew this variety a couple of years ago and fell in love with their full and beautiful form. It's similar in form to romaine, but more beautiful. When this baby grows up, I'll send you a picture.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Do not Adjust your Screen...

The scene this morning... Snowy.
Giant flakes falling, floating, caressing...
I love surprises such as this (unless this were July, then, not so much loving the snow; but it's still February).
The snow on the ground was gone by noon. The afternoon was lovely -- partly sunny and in the 50s.
I'll be back in the garden tomorrow... What will I find?

P.S. The plastic-covered low tunnel in this pic has kale growing inside. I put blankets over the kale weeks ago, when the temperature was set to drop below zero -- which it did. Last week I removed the blankets and found some of the kale still alive. It was a ghostly pale yellow due to lack of sun, but alive. I left the ends slightly open to vent out heat, since we were getting sunshine and highs in the 70s.
The other night when the forecast predicted a low of 28 I didn't bother to close the ends because kale can take 28 degrees without breaking a sweat. Not so sure how the 15 degrees we actually experience affected it, but it was undercover and the ground is warmish. I haven't looked yet because I've had other priorities, but I'm hoping for early kale. Guess I should also check the spinach, which has no cover, but is surround by a cushy hay mulch. Early spinach, yay.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


No barefoot gardening today!

The white stuff looks like a mix of sleet, snow and heavy frost. Our temperature dropped to 15 degrees F.  by early morning, much lower than the upper 20s the National Weather Service had forecast. These surprise lily leaves don't look fazed, though.

Yesterday was much chillier than the previous days this week. You might think I'd be disappointed that the weather turned colder, but the brisk air actually felt good... quite invigorating. I didn't work outside at all, but was in and out for various things. We saw a bit of sleet and rain and snow yesterday, as well, just enough to say that precipitation fell, but not enough to do much good. It did create this pretty ground covering, though, which disappeared almost as soon as the sun peaked over the trees.

This coming week appears to be cooler, yet still warm for February -- oh, wait, it's almost March. Maybe the 50s is a bit March-like.

For the past two or three weeks I've been itching to put seeds in the ground outside. With March coming it, it's now an appropriate time to plant things that like chilly weather, such as peas and spinach, radishes and kale. This coming week I'll start my peppers and eggplant, and the following week I'll seriously considering starting tomatoes. I always feel the time slipping away more rapidly than it actually is passing, because I'm looking forward in order to plan my plantings. Before I know it, we'll be sweltering in the middle of summer and I'll go, "hey, what happened to spring?!"

I guess I'd better pull myself back to Now, before it's too late, and enjoy the brisk wind and spits of snow. There will be time later to enjoy the labor and then the fruits of it, when later is Now.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Barefoot again... for a little while

Yesterday I worked barefoot in the garden. It's not something I typically do in February, but it's been exceptionally warm this month. I could have been barefoot several days before, but it just didn't seem right somehow.

I don't remember when we let it go out, but we have not had a fire in our stove all week. I've enjoyed not being awakened by the alarm so I can feed the fire at least twice through the night. I've enjoyed not dealing with the mess created by heating with wood. That won't last, though. Tonight will be the last night for a while that I can sleep without getting up to tend the fire. It will be chilly in here in the morning, but it's not supposed to fall below 40 tonight. So I'd rather wait until morning to light the fire and sleep through one more night.

Not only has the weather been unusually warm, it has been dry. Several times chances of rain have past by with little more than a spit. We missed it again this morning. We have another chance this weekend, but I'm not hopeful. I watered the blueberries and strawberries on Tuesday and am wondering whether this is a trend for the year, or whether things will change.

I know what this beautiful February weather signifies -- climate change. Anyone who denies it has not looked out the window in decades. Recently I read a headline -- just the headline -- for an article about that change, and it is more worrisome than anything else I've read. But I refuse to let that worry rule me. I am here now. I can enjoy life now. Proper actions can change the predictions.

Regardless, I will focus on now, and enjoying the beautiful weather, and working outdoors in a t-shirt, with my feet bare.... in February. I will give my love to the earth and all her children and be here now. I will be happy that a friend of mine is sowing wildflower seeds. I will continue to teach people how to put seeds in the soil and tend them. I am not hiding, I will quietly do what I can to help prevent the most dire predictions.

I have faith that each spring the flowers will bloom and the seeds will sprout... until they don't. And I will be here until I'm not. Just like the bright little winter aconite blossoms at the beginning of this post, basking in the sun, enjoying their brief existence here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Springing up

It's spring!
Yeah, I know, it's the middle of February.
The weather, though, is very springlike... mid- to late-springlike.
I discovered these little crocus popping up in front of the house a few days ago. Since then they've opened to full and I've found more things starting to pop through the ground, like a tiny cluster of winter aconite. Is that all the winter aconite I'll have this year? Last year several clusters were scattered about. I hope a few more appear.

With such warm weather over this past week and more in the forecast, I am seriously considering putting some seeds in the ground. I might start with spinach, since it much prefers sprouting in cooler soil. Yesterday I moved some of the hay mulch and found lovely little spinach plants where I'd planted them last fall -- not many, because I had trouble getting much germination, but we'll have a bit of early spinach. Carrots, beets and a few others also might get planted, whatever stands a chance of surviving if we get some late cold weather in April. I hesitate planting, though, because it has also been very dry -- not a good companion for being unusually warm.

Even though the weather is springlike, I am still in the midst of winter chores. Last week I pruned the elderberries -- severely pruned them. Yet I wonder if that was even severe enough. At least they won't get quite so overgrown this year. Elderberries can get a little unruly. They send up multiple suckers throughout the growing season. If I can keep up with cutting back the suckers I don't want through mid- to late-spring, I can keep some moderate control. The suckers slow down during the summer. That can be a tricky prospect since spring is the time I've got so much other stuff to do, but I do my best.

I love my elderberries, which are the native species and grow as large shrubs. The berries make a wondrous jam and provide many nutrients, as well as being touted as a flu preventative. Most of the research in this area has been done on products made with the European elder berry (Sambucus nigra), but the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is considered to possess similar properties. The flavor of the berry doesn't lend well to fresh eating, especially since the seed contains a toxin that can cause digestive issues, so they shouldn't be eaten fresh in more than small handful doses. However, the toxin is destroyed by heat, so cooked, ripe berries are perfectly safe and lend themselves well to cooked dishes, especially when blended with other, sweeter fruits.

My elderberry jam is seasoned with cinnamon, clove and cardamom, and acidified with lemon juice, which complements the elderberry's flavor nicely. I sweeten with honey, in much lower quantities than typical jam and jelly recipes require. When I use those larger amounts of sweetener I taste nothing but sugar. The point of jams and jellies is to taste the fruit. So I use a pectin that gels with low sugar quantities or no sugar at all. One combination that I've found to be quite nice is to mix gooseberries with the elderberries. Love it.

The European elder has a great history and is the subject of much legend and folklore, which I will discuss in a future post. The magical and medicinal associations with the elderberry were what first got me interested in growing it. But it's also a gorgeous shrub, especially when it blooms mid-summer. My enthusiasm for it does not diminish at all when I'm constantly pruning out suckers in an attempt to keep it from taking over everything. I am quite drawn to plants that take care of themselves so well and force me to stay present enough to notice when I must whack out something. I can't really expect everyone to understand my love for this plant, so I won't try to explain it. However, I will offer more information at a later date. In the meantime, those of you who are in my region and freaking out over the unusually warm weather -- Relax, Enjoy. Freaking out won't change it. Just enjoy the pretty flowers.